In the space of seven days, I have had the opportunity to work alongside more than 80 Governments—nearly half the entire membership of the United Nations—and to hold bilateral talks with more than 25 leaders, ranging from the new Presidents of South Korea and Zambia to the Prime Ministers of Japan and Jamaica, demonstrating the global reach of British diplomacy and the value of our presence at the world’s top tables.
Our immediate priority is to join with our allies to ensure that Ukraine prevails in her brave struggle against Putin’s aggression. At the Madrid summit, NATO exceeded all expectations in the unity and single-minded resolve of the alliance to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and to explode the myth that western democracies lack the staying power for a prolonged crisis.
All of us understand that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, he will find new targets for his revanchist attacks. We are defending not some abstract ideal but the first principle of a peaceful world, which is that large and powerful countries cannot be allowed to dismember their neighbours, and that if this was ever permitted, no nation anywhere would be safe. Therefore our goal must be for our Ukrainian friends to win, by which I mean that Ukraine must have the strength to finish this war on the terms that President Zelensky has described.
When Putin claimed that by invading his neighbour he would force NATO away from Russia, he could not have been proved more spectacularly wrong because the single most welcome outcome of the Madrid summit was the alliance’s agreement to admit Finland and Sweden. I hope I speak for the whole House when I say that Britain will be proud to stand alongside these fellow democracies and reaffirm our unshakeable pledge to come to their aid and defend them if ever necessary, just as they would for us. We were glad to smooth their path into NATO by giving both nations the security assurances they needed to apply for membership, and when I met Prime Minister Andersson of Sweden and President Niinistö of Finland last Wednesday, I told them I was certain that NATO would be stronger and safer for their accession.
Before Putin’s onslaught, both countries had prized their neutrality, even through all the crises of the Cold War, and it is a measure of how seriously they take today’s threat that opinion in Sweden and Finland has been transformed. It speaks volumes about Putin’s folly that one permanent consequence of his attack on Ukraine will be a doubling of the length of NATO’s border with Russia. If anyone needed proof that NATO is purely defensive, the fact that two quintessentially peaceable countries have chosen to join it demonstrates the true nature of our alliance.
Now is the time to intensify our help for Ukraine, because Putin’s Donbass offensive is slowing down and his overstretched army is suffering heavy casualties. Ukraine’s success in forcing the Russians off Snake Island by sheer weight of firepower shows how difficult the invader will find it to hold the territory he has overrun. We need to equip our friends now to take advantage of the moment when Putin will have to pause and regroup, so Britain will supply Ukraine with another £1 billion of military aid, including air defences, drones and electronic warfare equipment, bringing our total military, humanitarian and economic support since
To guarantee the security of our allies on the eastern flank, NATO agreed in Madrid to bolster its high-readiness forces, and we in the UK will offer even more British forces to the alliance, including almost all of our surface fleet. We have already doubled our deployment in Estonia, and we will upgrade our national headquarters to be led by a brigadier and help our Estonian friends to establish their own divisional headquarters. If you follow the trajectory of our programmes to modernise our Armed Forces, Mr Speaker, you will draw the logical conclusion that the UK will likely be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this decade.
Earlier, at the G7 summit, the first full day of talks coincided with a Russian missile destroying a Ukrainian shopping centre, killing at least 18 people. This barbaric attack on an obviously civilian target strengthened the resolve of my fellow leaders to provide Ukraine with more financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic backing for, and I quote the communiqué,
‘as long as it takes’.
That is exactly the term later echoed by NATO. The G7 has pledged nearly $30 billion of financial support for Ukraine this year, and we will tighten our sanctions on Russia. The UK will join America, Japan and Canada to ban the import of Russian gold, which previously raised more export revenues than anything else except hydrocarbons.
The G7 will devise more options for ensuring that nearly 25 million tonnes of grain, trapped inside Ukraine by Putin’s blockade, reaches the countries that rely on these supplies. Just as the world economy was recovering from the pandemic, Putin’s war has caused a surge in global food and energy prices, raising the cost of living everywhere, including here at home. The G7 agreed to
‘take immediate action to secure energy supply and reduce price surges…including by exploring additional measures such as price caps.’
We will help our partners in the developing world to meet their climate targets and transform millions of lives by constructing new infrastructure according to the highest standards of transparency and environmental protection. Through our Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, an idea launched by the UK at the Carbis Bay summit last year, we will mobilise up to $600 billion of public and private investment over the next five years.
Many beneficiary nations will be members of the Commonwealth, and I was very pleased to attend the Kigali summit of this unique association of 56 states, encompassing a third of humanity. More countries are eager to join, and we were pleased to welcome two new members, Gabon and Togo.
It is an amazing fact that our familiar legal and administrative systems, combined with the English language, knock 21% off the cost of trade between Commonwealth members. It is because the Commonwealth unites that advantage with some of the fastest-growing markets in the world that we are using the sovereignty that the UK has regained to sign free trade or economic partnership agreements with as many Commonwealth countries as possible. We have done 33 so far, including with Australia and New Zealand, and we are aiming for one with India by Diwali in October.
It is true that not every member of the Commonwealth sees Putin’s aggression as we do, or exactly as we do, so it was vital to have the opportunity to counter the myths and to point out that food prices are rising because Putin has blockaded one of the world’s biggest food producers. If large countries were free to destroy their neighbours then no Commonwealth member, however distant from Ukraine, would be genuinely secure.
The fact that, in a week, the UK was able to deal on friendly terms with scores of countries in three organisations shows the extraordinary diplomatic assets our country possesses. As we stand up for what is right in Ukraine and advance the values and interests of the British people, I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, and I am sure the whole House welcomes that we are able to put our differences aside to unite in support of Ukraine against Putin’s aggression, just as allies have been able to do so at the G7 and NATO this past week.
Because this shocking war continues, we cannot afford to lose focus on this issue, so we fully welcome the reaffirming of opposition to the invasion and the new steps taken to support Ukraine’s resistance. However, for as much as we should all welcome the unity on display in Madrid and the Bavarian Alps, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister used CHOGM to launch an unsuccessful and completely unnecessary campaign to remove the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth: our colleague and a Member of your Lordships’ House, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland. He should have been focusing on uniting members rather than stoking divisions, especially when it was clear that his was not a majority view. Can I press the noble Baroness and seek an assurance? Now that this issue has been resolved, I would like her to assure the House that the PM fully recognises the decision of the Commonwealth to support my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, and, along with others, will give full support to her and the work that she and others will have to undertake. I would be grateful if she could make that assurance, because we all want to ensure the success of the Commonwealth.
This year’s 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali was all the more important given that it had been postponed since 2020. It was hosted by the latest addition to the Commonwealth, Rwanda, so was another reminder of the diversity among members. But it also reminded us of the inequality among members. The communiqué’s focus, therefore, on governance, human rights and the rule of law, sustainability, health, youth, and technology and innovation made for very fitting themes. But the agreements they come to have to lead to some tangible actions, particularly when the Commonwealth is now lagging so far behind on the sustainable development goals. Can the noble Baroness commit to updating this House on progress towards meeting the actions for this year’s CHOGM before the next meeting in Samoa?
The G7 really serves as another reminder that, just as in the same way as Covid impacted each country differently, recovery is also unequal. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, offered real leadership in the global recovery, and he sought to bring countries together: to work together, to plan together, to take actions together. The global economy and the cost of living, of course, featured heavily in this summit. It is not to our credit that the leadership the UK offers is on sky-high inflation, and we are the only member of the G7 putting up taxes.
Leaders were right to focus significantly on the events in Ukraine. I am pleased that the communiqué emphasised the condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with members agreeing financial support for humanitarian aid. The noble Baroness may be aware that the World Food Programme has warned that acute hunger globally is expected to rise by 47 million people due to the Ukraine war. What progress has been made in identifying alternate sources of food supplies to tackle what is a global crisis, and will the Government heed the call for the UN to convene an emergency global food summit this year?
Moving on to NATO, I am sure the whole House will welcome that Finland and Sweden are soon to join the alliance. Clearly this was not what Putin intended when invading Ukraine, but he has brought about the very thing that he least wanted: an expanded and stronger NATO. However, as much as the announcement on an extra £l billion in military support by the Government is welcome, it was frustrating to see that being undermined by Ministers having these public rows about defence spending. I similarly welcome the announcement of a further 1,000 troops being sent to Estonia but, if the noble Baroness could say something about how that plays into the cut of 10,000 troops from the British Army over the next three years, it would help to reassure those of us who have concerns that decisions taken by Ministers are going to make it harder for the UK to fulfil the NATO obligations.
I also welcome that allies considered recent actions by China, discussing
“malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation” targets. Can the noble Baroness update the House on the work of our Government to resist such operations, obviously taking into account that we will have to work globally on these issues?
This is a fragile time for the global economy. The risks posed to our collective security are greater now, and the UK must be outward-looking, building alliances through trust. As the Summer Recess approaches, I hope the Minister can give an assurance that, should issues escalate, this House would be recalled to discuss any emerging problems. We hope those do not happen, but it has to be on record that we are willing to do so if it should be necessary.
I also hope that the Government can reflect on the long-term consequences of what has unfolded. If the UK and our allies are to look ahead to a more secure and prosperous future, we must accept that we can do so only through a focus and adherence to international law and order. The G7, NATO and the Commonwealth are all forums that can promote these principles when people work together, but those values have to be reflected at home, not just in summits abroad. First, can the noble Baroness say when we will see the full implementation of the recommendations in the Russia report? Given that foreign donations to political parties were made easier in the Elections Act, we need to be sure—and to be reassured—that the Government are serious about action.
Also, the noble Baroness will surely understand how deeply regrettable it is that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is being brought forward in violation of international law. That damages the UK’s moral authority and political credibility on the world stage. If there is one message for the Government, it is that Ministers cannot just pick and choose when to abide by international law. In the Statement, repeating the Prime Minister’s words, she referred to the “extraordinary diplomatic assets” that we have. That is true, but there does seem to be a tension: that we are not using those to best advantage, and that we are undermining those who have spent many years developing them as an important asset for the UK. International co-operation and trust are essential. It is not a pick’n’mix just when it suits the Government, and that needs to be a theme running through everything that the Government do on the international stage.
My Lords, this Statement is probably unique, combining as it does three consecutive meetings of groups of the world’s leading democracies. As the Prime Minister says, the NATO summit showed a commendable unity in expressing its support to Ukraine. However, as this weekend’s Russian gains on the battlefield have shown, mere promises of more armaments are of little help to the Ukrainian soldiers on the front line. Speed is now of the essence in actually delivering them. Can the noble Baroness say how quickly it will be possible for the UK to get the additional weaponry which we have committed to Ukraine into Ukrainian hands, and into front-line operations?
Clearly, a major challenge in the provision of the latest weaponry is to train the Ukrainians in its deployment. The UK is obviously providing training to Ukrainian personnel in the use of the weapons which we supply, but I believe we have also offered to provide more basic training to very much larger numbers of Ukrainian recruits. Could the noble Baroness update the House on the state of discussions on this proposal, and whether—and if so when—we might expect to see significant numbers of Ukrainians coming to the UK for their military training?
The Statement says that, as part of our increased commitments to NATO, we will offer
“almost all of our surface fleet” to the alliance. What does this mean for where ships will be deployed? Specifically, does it mean that we will no longer deploy our carriers into the South China Sea, but keep them within the European theatre?
More generally on our defence budget, the Prime Minister says that the UK is likely to spend up to 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Does the noble Baroness agree with the figures produced by the House of Commons Library last week, which show that the Ministry of Defence budget is actually being cut as a result of our soaring inflation, and is on course to have a 5.6% real-terms cut in day-to-day expenditure by 2024-25? Such a cut is, of course, in breach of the Conservative general election manifesto promise to increase the defence budget in line with inflation. When will the Ministry of Defence receive the funding to reverse that real-terms cut?
What thought has been given to where any extra resources might be allocated? The noble Baroness will be well aware of concern across the House on the precipitate fall in the number of soldiers in the Army. Do the Government intend to reverse these cuts, as they increase overall military spending?
On the crucial area of energy supply, the G7 committed to exploring oil and gas price caps. Which country is taking this proposal forward? In particular, what role is the UK playing in developing this potentially important option?
The G7 is committed to countering Chinese influence globally by spending £600 billion of public and private investment over the next five years. What part is the UK playing in achieving this? Specifically, how much public investment do the UK Government plan to allocate to this programme?
The Prime Minister bookended his Statement by extolling the reach and depth of British diplomacy. Although it is true that our membership of NATO, the G7 and the Commonwealth means that we were in the same room as half of the membership of the UN, being present is not the same as being influential. To be influential and effective, your opposite numbers must trust you to keep your word and stick to your agreements, but, under this Prime Minister, they simply cannot do so.
In the extraordinary article by the German and Irish Foreign Ministers in yesterday’s Observer, they state of the Irish protocol:
“Instead of the path of partnership and dialogue, the British government has chosen unilateralism. There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago.”
Every Government in the world will have seen these words and will be making their calculations. If we break our international agreements once, what is to stop us doing so again? With this Prime Minister, whose word counts for nothing and for whom facts are expendable, our stock internationally is low and falling. All the warm words in today’s Statement cannot begin to reverse this fundamental failing.
I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. I will pick up on a number of their questions. On the noble Baroness’s point, we have of course worked very well with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland; we have done so for a long time and will continue to do so, because we all want to do everything we can to strengthen the Commonwealth Secretariat and deliver for Commonwealth members. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will be able to update the House, as the noble Baroness suggested.
On the noble Lord’s questions on the G7, as he rightly said, the G7 communiqué said that to reduce price surges it is considering additional measures such as price caps to stabilise energy markets. Leaders have tasked the relevant Ministers to evaluate the feasibility and efficiency of these measures urgently so that action will be taken.
On the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, this is a G7 initiative to narrow the investment gap for sustainable, inclusive, climate-resilient and quality infrastructure in emerging markets in developing countries. Through the G7, we will mobilise the private sector for accelerated action and support just energy transition partnerships. We launched the first of these JETPs with South Africa at COP 26, and we are currently working towards future partnerships with India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam.
The noble Baroness rightly highlighted the grave concern about the food supply. As she and all noble Lords will know, 25 million tonnes of corn and wheat cannot be exported due to Putin’s blockade. As the noble Baroness said, more than 275 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger at the start of 2022, and that is now expected to increase by 47 million if the conflict continues. So, at CHOGM, we committed an additional £372 million, for instance, for countries most impacted by rising global food prices, including £130 million this financial year for the World Food Programme, which she mentioned, to fund its life-saving work around the world, including in Commonwealth countries. We committed £133 million for research and development partnerships with world-leading agricultural and scientific organisations to develop and implement technologies to improve food security, such as new drought-resistant crops. We also announced £52 million for the UN’s global emergency response fund and £37 million for the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned defence spending. At the NATO summit, the Prime Minister outlined how we will need to invest for the long term in vital capabilities like future combat air and AUKUS. These investments mean that we are on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Noble Lords will know that UK defence spending is projected to reach 2.3% of GDP this year due to the UK defence industry investment and the £2.3 billion of extraordinary support for Ukraine. We are increasing defence spending by over £24 billion over the next four years—the biggest investment in our Armed Forces since the Cold War.
The noble Lord asked about UK forces in NATO. As he rightly said, we announced our commitments to the NATO force model: we will make available RAF Typhoon and F35B Lightning fighter jets, royal naval vessels—including Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers—and brigade-size land forces to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. We will significantly increase our availability, which will include the majority of our maritime forces. Either the noble Lord or the noble Baroness referred to our announcement of the expansion of our national headquarters in Estonia to ensure that we can provide rapid reinforcements with our high-readiness forces if needed.
The noble Lord asked about the new military support for Ukraine, and of course we will work with the Ukrainians to get that aid and support to them as soon as possible. But I point out how much we have done already: we are proud to have provided the equipment and help that Ukraine asked for. We have already committed over £750 million-worth of equipment, including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, new anti-ship missiles, 120 armoured vehicles, more than 6,900 NLAWs and more than 200 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The noble Lord asked about the training of Ukrainian armed forces. We announced a new training offer, spearheaded by the UK, with a plan to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers every 120 days. Each soldier will spend three weeks on the training courses, receiving medical training, for example, and learning skills in cybersecurity and countering explosive attacks. Of course, this is on top of the 22,000 Ukrainian troops whom we have already trained under Operation Orbital since 2015, so it builds on the work that we have done.
The noble Lord and noble Baroness both asked about the Army in particular. We are creating an Army ready to fight the wars of the future, making it more lethal, agile and expeditionary. We are delivering the most significant modernisation of the Army in a generation. It will continue to recruit the talent that it needs to maintain a competitive advantage now and in the future, and it will continue to be one of the most technically advanced forces in the world. The Future Soldier transformation programme offers the best combination of people and equipment within the resources that we have. Under the Future Soldier transformation, the Army will have a whole force of over 100,000 troops.
As these three international meetings showed, we will continue to play a central role on the global stage and play our part in trying to help all our allies, particularly in light of the events in Ukraine.
My Lords, I thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. I have two questions. First, all these summits agreed that there needs to be an increase in defence spending; this was said most loudly in NATO, but it also came from the other two summits. Given that the British economy is growing so slowly, where will cuts be made to other expenditure to fund that increase? Will the Government lead the necessary national debate, as we get our minds around that consequence? Secondly, as the Minister outlined, we have been very generous to Ukraine; that has come from British inventory, so can she update the House on plans to fill the gaps that are now appearing in our inventory?
As I said, the investments that we have made and outlined mean we will be on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Future spending decisions will be for the next spending review, and no doubt there will be many discussions about that in the run-up to it. In relation to our inventory, the Ministry of Defence is working hard to ensure that we have the right amount of munitions, weapons et cetera that we need.
My Lords, we on these Benches support Her Majesty’s Government in their response to President Putin’s invasion, as I am sure will our General Synod which is debating the matter this weekend. Aggression must not be rewarded. My right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has previously assured this House that the Church stands ready to use its reach and connections to pave the way to a solution, and we also stand ready to use our extensive links to humanitarian organisations. May I therefore ask the Minister to expand on what is being done to ensure UK aid support reaches all those who need it, particularly through the informal volunteer groups, which have so far received only 0.24%—less than £1 in every £400—of direct donations, and to consider how faith organisations, including the Church, can pay their full part?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments, and I pay tribute to the Church and other faith organisations for all the help and support that they provide in a whole array—both in the UK to refugees coming over here but also within the region. We will continue to work very closely with faith groups, but also civil society more broadly, to provide the support that communities around the world need. We are a world leader in development, having spent more than £11 billion on ODA in 2021. In 2021, we were the third-largest ODA donor in the G7 and the fourth-largest overall donor by volume, and we remain very proud of our work in this area.
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, knows what I am going to say. I think that it is only right that, when a noble Lord arrives five and a half minutes after the start, he should not really speak. But I do accept that there are not many people here. I think it would be good if the noble Lord allowed people who were here at the beginning of the debate to speak, and if there is time afterwards then he might be allowed to speak.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement, which has a lot of hope and a lot of challenges in it. I chair the board of Christian Aid, which has been working hard in Ukraine ensuring that incubators are provided, because two hospitals were destroyed, and there have been a lot of miscarriages and premature births taking place. We thank the Government for the disaster aid that has raised a lot of money, and through your offices, again, we have been able to help out.
On defence, during our debate on the humble Address I brought up the issue—as everybody is wanting to look at more lethal weapons—of the whole growth of unregulated, autonomous robots. These are very good at not being controlled by a person but have been set within themselves, and their destruction is unbelievable. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to create a treaty which will limit the way that these weapons are developed?
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his comments—I apologise: it is a new one on me and I did not want to make a mistake. He is absolutely right that we all need to work internationally to tackle the many problems, a number of which he alluded to, to ensure that we have a safer and more peaceful world.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that there are two damaging ambiguities in this Statement which undermine its credibility? The first is a passage that says:
“our goal must be for our Ukrainian friends to win, by which I mean that Ukraine must have the strength to finish this war on the terms that President Zelensky has described.”
Is that the United Kingdom indicating that it would provide support if an attempt is made to expel Russia from Crimea, with all the consequences which that would raise? The second is where the Statement says—“you” having introduced the Speaker into the exchanges—
“you will draw the logical conclusion that the UK will likely be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this decade.”
But 2.5% of which GDP—of the GDP of today, or the GDP of 2030? Surely, we are entitled to detail of that kind.
As I have said, future decisions are for the spending review, but the Prime Minister has said that he expects it to set out a trajectory towards 2.5% by the end of the decade. In relation to the noble Lord’s first comment, President Zelensky made clear during the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Kyiv that Ukraine has no interest in surrendering sovereignty, and we want to support it to finish the war on the terms he describes.
My Lords, my apologies for arriving a minute late to my noble friend’s Statement; it came up a fraction sooner than I expected and quicker than I could run to get here. I wish, if I may, to ask a question, but first of all I agree with those who welcome the orderly transfer of the secretary-generalship of the Commonwealth. As I said in the debate which we had on Thursday on this subject, I think that is the right way for it to go: it gives the present secretary-general a chance, as it were, to wind up and complete her term of office—I know that she has some more leadership ideas for facing Commonwealth difficulties to share with us, so that is a good thing.
My question is this. Did I hear in reports, but not in this Statement, that at the G7 the Ministers and the Heads of Government entertained the idea of trying to create a counter to the belt and road initiative of the Chinese, which now involves memoranda of understanding with 141 countries, and two-thirds of the Commonwealth as well? This is a huge entanglement by China. I know that most of the first two gatherings were about Ukraine, but it is relevant because it is of course China’s neutral stance that is influencing half the world not to support us in challenging the Russian atrocities, but instead apparently to condone them. As long as that goes on, and half the world is not with us against the Russian horrors, and against their attack on humanity and international law, then Putin is going to get some encouragement to continue, so I would like to know whether there is anything in the brief on that particular subject.
What my noble friend is asking about is the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which I mentioned in response to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, which is the G7 initiative to narrow the investment gap for sustainable, inclusive, climate-resilient and quality infrastructure in emerging markets and developing countries. We, through the G7, intend to mobilise the private sector for accelerated action and support just energy transition partnerships. As I mentioned, one has already been set up with South Africa, and we are currently working towards further partnerships with India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam. It is that initiative that the G7 will be developing within that space.
My Lords, my question follows on from that, on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. Will the Leader of the House agree with me that it is crucial that this money avoids the errors that have happened so often in the past, where money has gone into the priorities of investors rather than the needs of the poorest in society? Will she agree that this money needs to take a rights-based, gender-sensitive approach, delivering a just transition rather than ensuring that the rich in some countries get richer and the global north benefits—particularly in ensuring that the global south does not get laid on with even further levels of debt burden when it is already carrying levels of debt that it is unable to afford?
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that we need to make sure that this initiative delivers for the poorest countries in the world, and that we work in a collaborative and effective way. That is what is happening in the development of this partnership. As I have said, we already have the first one announced, we are working towards several more, and we will support partners in developing countries and emerging markets in a fair and sustainable way.
My Lords, will the Government emphasise that we have no quarrel with the people of Russia, but only with their misguided leaders? As regards Ukraine, will they try their hardest to keep open all channels of communication, whether diplomatic or other? Finally, will they identify and use all possible intermediaries to end the war and open the way towards a verified and durable peace?
We have said before—I certainly have at the Dispatch Box—that we have no quarrel with the Russian people. I am happy to restate that. We will support our Ukrainian friends so that they do not have to suffer in the way that they have, and we will work with President Zelensky to achieve the outcome he wants.
My Lords, President Putin has more than once suggested that he stands ready, if he thinks it necessary, to use nuclear weapons in pursuit of the Ukrainian war. Has it been made clear to him that the first use of any such weapons, whether tactical or strategic, is out of bounds, and that any nation taking that step would meet retribution—which in the case of Russia could be terminal?
My Lords, we are already in a very fraught situation and I do not think that speculating on such things helps at this point. What we want to do is work with our allies to support the Ukrainians and continue to point out the fallacy and wrongness of what President Putin is currently doing.
My Lords, as we have had a question from my noble friend Lord Howell, we should allow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, eventually to come in. I withdraw my comments, with the leave of the House.
My Lords, I apologise too for being late for the beginning of the Statement. I had expected it to be later in the evening and my office is in Millbank House. Anyway, I can assure the noble Baroness—to whom I apologise profusely—that I have read the Statement, because I have a very specific question and wanted to see whether there was any reference to it in the Statement, but there is not. As part of the US increasing its military presence across Europe, two more squadrons of F-35 stealth jets will be stationed at RAF Lakenheath, which is leased to the US air force. Can the noble Baroness reassure me that these will not be the dual-capable variant of the stealth aircraft, and that we will not, some time in the future, face the challenge of the United States wanting to base nuclear weapons in the UK once again?
I think the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have that level of detail. I ask him not to take that as any answer; I am afraid I simply do not know. If I could write to him, it would be for the best. I am happy to share the letter, in the Library, with other noble Lords.
My Lords, I apologise for being one minute and 30 seconds late, but may I return to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem? There is the figure of 2.5% of GDP by the end of this decade; we are investing troops in Estonia and there is the possibility of a European war that could escalate beyond this continent. Can we please keep these figures carefully in mind? Could my noble friend assure me that we have the ammunition—having rightly given so much to the Ukrainians—to sustain action for significantly longer than indicated in the rather authoritative article in today’s Times?
Certainly; that is a priority of the Ministry of Defence. We have been clear that we need to invest for the long term, and that is what we will continue to do. That is why we have increased defence spending by over £24 billion over the next four years and have said that we will be making further investments to reach 2.5% of GDP being spent on defence by the end of the decade.
My Lords, I think I heard the Leader of the House refer to agricultural investment; as a consequence of the war in Ukraine and the difficulties we all now face, it is right to consider this with a global approach. Moving on, recognising Togo and Gabon as aspirant members of the Commonwealth should, I hope, send a very convincing message to all our friends in La Francophonie that we in the Commonwealth would welcome an in-depth discussion with them. La Francophonie has tremendous opportunity for the UK. On that point—the Leader of the House may not be aware of this—was any attention paid to the situation with regard to Cameroon, which is exercising the minds of many?
Yes, we were very pleased to agree the accession of Togo and Gabon. I do not believe that Cameroon was mentioned, but if that was the case, I will happily refer back to the noble Viscount. As for agriculture, he is absolutely right: as well as the various additional funds I mentioned, we also announced £17.7 million of funding through the FCDO’s green growth centre of expertise to improve the effective use of fertilisers and increase food production in countries including Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana.
Some Members were late by a minute or five minutes, but the noble Lord missed the whole Statement and the remarks of the party leaders.
I think that proves the point that the noble Lord was not here for the Leader of the Opposition.
House adjourned at 7.36 pm.